Warm, Fuzzy, and Feudal: Relationships

Warm, Fuzzy, and Feudal: Relationships

In some ways, the feudal society of the middle ages and the modern project environment are alike. True, the comparison will only go so far, but when it comes to the topic of loyalty, it holds up pretty well. If you and your project team have a relationship of mutual loyalty, your project road will be a lot smoother.

Feudal society really took off in Europe in the 9th century, when the Holy Roman Empire fell apart. With no strong central government, warlords consolidated power in their local areas, which they controlled by dint of military might. That armed power came from the warlord’s personal army and from his vassals, who were lesser lords with their own fighting forces, or individuals skilled at warfare.

The conditions in these days were lawless—there wasn’t even a “hand of the market” because there wasn’t a coherent economic system. All people had to tie them together was their relationships. For the warlord and his vassals, the relationship was one of personal loyalty, which was in turn based on promises of mutual support. Generally, the support took the form of military assistance from the vassals to the warlord and grants of land from the warlord to the vassals. Some vassals, in their turn, had loyalty relationships with people under them.

As a project manager, you’re something like one of those medieval warlords. Your vassals are the members of your project team. I say this because you have, as the old saw goes, “all the responsibility and none of the control.” None of the members of your team reports to you. Sure, they have to do the work, because their boss has assigned them, but they don’t have to do it well, or cheerfully, or on time. Of course, you can always escalate issues to resource managers, but you don’t want to go to that well too often—it’s a hassle for you and an annoyance for them.

So what do you do to ensure top performance? Like the warlords of old, you must cultivate the personal loyalty of your team members. That loyalty comes from a relationship in which each side provides some sort of support for the other.
Your team’s job is to provide you with a job done within the triple constraints of time, quality and budget. But what can you give them, besides excellent performance of the usual project management duties?

I have a few suggestions:

    • Bring doughnuts! People love to be fed. There’s something very primal in the way people react to the food-bringer. Providing some munchies at meetings marks you as a thoughtful person who can mix a little pleasure with business.

 

    • Listen! You knew this one was coming, right? And really listen—don’t let your mind wander off to Pago-Pago while the other person is talking. Nod your head, say “yep,” take notes, whatever you need to do. People thrive on genuine appreciation of their ideas.

 

    • Take an interest! Actively find out what your team members are really about—family, hobbies, pet peeves, passions, etc. Doing this can help develop genuine friendships, or at least a feeling of collegiality.

 

    • Come through! If you say you’re going to do something for the team or a team member, make sure you do it. It’s easier to be loyal to someone you can count on.

 

    • Do some dirty work! Often there’s a lump of work that needs doing that’s not exactly related to anyone’s field and is also unpleasant. Break the rule of “managing only” in this situation and do it yourself. If there’s an overnight effort, stay with the team, even if you aren’t doing any of the actual work. In either case, the team will be grateful to you for pitching in and will see you more as one of them than as an overseer.

 

    • Give recognition! If someone does an outstanding job one week, or even if it’s just their birthday, say something about it. If you’ve got a slim budget, print them a funny certificate; if you’ve got some funds, get them a gift card or a cake or something. They will think of you with favor afterward.

I could go on, but you get the idea, which is to practice the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s simple, but all too often forgotten in the rush to just get things done. Be the great project manager who keeps it always in mind and you’ll find that your teams get increasingly sharp as the project moves on.

Next: You Can’t Un-Gild the Lily: The Importance of Requirements

P.S.: Useful resources for this entry were http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/distance/hist151/feudal.htm and http://smartblogs.com/workforce/2009/07/13/5-ways-workers-can-foster-loyalty/.

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